Sirloin and ribeye are two popular steak cuts that have the additional benefit of being easy to find. That still might leave you wondering: Which of these steaks should you grill up for your next cookout?
The choice depends on a number of factors, which will become clear as you learn more about the difference between the two cuts. Here’s everything you need to know about ribeye vs sirloin.
Ribeye vs Sirloin: The Basic Considerations
The sirloin is cut from the portion of the steer that sits between the short loin and the round. As such, the word “sirloin” refers to this large section, which is then cut into smaller steaks. Because it’s such a broad classification, it can be difficult to tell exactly which cut of meat you’re getting.
When in doubt, look for a label that reads top sirloin, as this is a popular and reliable choice. In the US, you may also see sirloin referred to as a NY strip steak.
When you buy a sirloin steak, you’re getting a fairly tender piece of meat with only a hint of connective tissue, which helps keep the steak juicy when cooked. The meat should be bright red throughout, with very little visible fat. While sirloin isn’t quite as tender as ribeye, slicing the meat thinly across the grain will help to offset the difference.
The technical term for this cut is spinalis dorsi. However, even most butchers will refer to it by its common moniker, the ribeye.
Not surprisingly, the ribeye comes from the rib section of the steer. It’s made up of two muscles (the aforementioned spinalis and a separate heart-shaped muscle) that are positioned between the short loin and the chuck. While they’re usually sold boneless, it’s possible to find bone-in ribeye if you prefer even more flavor and texture (see About Tomahawk Steaks, below). The meat from a ribeye is a bit more tender than sirloin, especially when it’s cooked properly (see Preparation Methods, below).
Ribeye steaks are characterized by their marbling—that is, the broad ribbons of intramuscular fat that can be seen running through the steak. A lot of this fat will melt away during cooking, leaving the meat with an unbelievably juicy texture and hearty flavor. There will still be some visible fat left over, however, particularly toward the middle of the steak. Some people are turned off by this, while others believe it adds to ribeye’s enduring appeal.
Ribeye vs Sirloin: Flavor
Because it comes from a working muscle on the steer, sirloin has a noticeably beefy flavor. The more work a muscle has to do, the more flavorful it will be. This is particularly evident when you compare sirloin to tenderloin steak, which is exceptionally tender yet nearly tasteless.
Even though the sirloin has a more robust flavor, it can’t hold a candle to the richness that comes from the marbling on a properly grilled ribeye steak. If it’s sheer beef flavor you’re after, then the ribeye should be at the top of your list.
If you decide to go with the sirloin, make sure to choose the leanest cut possible. The fat on a sirloin steak will toughen as it cooks, giving the meat an unpleasant texture while contributing very little to the flavor profile.
Is sirloin healthier than ribeye, or vice versa?
Both are good sources of protein, and you can count on either one to give you the recommended daily allowance of fat—although, as we’ve pointed out, ribeye has the edge in this category. Both also contain high levels of phosphorous, selenium, iron, and zinc. Because sirloin steaks are leaner, they’re naturally lower in calories, making them a better choice for health-conscious diners.
The vitamins and minerals found in steak can contribute to improved heart health when consumed in moderation. However, it can be easy to overindulge, particularly given the fact that many steak cuts consist of three to four servings at least. Because of the high saturated fat content, it’s best to stick to 3-ounce portions, even if you’ve done the sensible thing and gone with the sirloin.
Which will be easier on your wallet, ribeye or sirloin?
This is a trickier question to answer. The answer will depend on several variables, such as which type of ribeye or sirloin you’re buying, the grade of beef, or whether you’re buying it from a local butcher or a chain supermarket.
For the sake of consistency, let’s assume we’re comparing top sirloin to ribeye. The ribeye will be a few dollars more per pound at most venues. However, if you choose a bone-in ribeye, a boneless top sirloin will probably be more expensive since you’ll be getting more meat per pound. Also, note that you can save more cash by purchasing a full sirloin cut, but trimming it into individual steaks requires a bit of skill and practice.
When it comes to sirloin, it doesn’t really matter which grade you choose. The meat is naturally lean, so there’s virtually no difference between Select, Choice, and Prime cuts. Therefore, it’s easier to save money on a sirloin steak if you go with a Select cut.
On the other hand, because ribeye is so well-marbled, it has a better chance of being rated USDA Prime. The more marbling the cut has, the higher the grade. Unfortunately, this will also raise the price tag above what many people can reasonably afford. Prime grade cuts often wind up in restaurants, but they’re sold commercially as well. You can learn more about the qualities that set prime grade beef apart in this video tutorial.
One final note: You can expect to save money if you shop at a big-box store instead of your local meat counter. Just remember that the meat available at the larger chains might be of lower quality than what you had in mind.
About Tomahawk Steaks
In the age of social media, tomahawks have gained a solid reputation on account of their impressive appearance. These are simply thick-cut ribeye steaks with the rib bone still attached.
Because of their increasing popularity, tomahawks have a high per-pound cost, but remember that a great deal of its overall weight is tied up in the bone section. That means you’ll be paying a top-shelf price for a relatively small quantity of meat.
While tomahawk steaks certainly have plenty of eye appeal, we don’t think they’re worth the additional cost. If it’s a ribeye you’re after, you’ll be better off buying the boneless kind, which will give you more bang for your buck.
Best Way to Prepare Ribeye
Despite its stellar reputation, ribeye is actually a poor choice for the grill. That’s because the high fat content can cause flare-ups, which will impart a bitter quality to the surface of the steak. If you choose to ignore this advice and grill a ribeye anyway, make sure you keep a sturdy pan lid on hand to douse any errant flames.
Ribeye is best when pan-seared in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron. The fat will have a chance to break down and flavor the meat, and the exterior will gain a dark, crispy crust that will enhance the rich texture.
To pan-sear a ribeye steak, pat the meat dry with paper towels and season as desired. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper are good bets, but you can also experiment with different steak seasonings if you prefer.
Heat your skillet over medium heat and add about 1 teaspoon of a neutral oil, such as canola. Place the steak in the center of the pan and cook, turning every 3 minutes or so, until a mahogany crust has formed on the exterior (this should take about 12-15 minutes total). Remove from heat and let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
If you’d like, top the steak with a pat of herb butter while it’s resting. This will improve the flavor and make the meat taste even richer.
Best Way to Prepare Sirloin
Sirloin’s leaner texture makes it a great partner for marinades. It can also be cut into chunks and skewered for kabobs or stew-type dishes. For these reasons, it’s a far more versatile cut than ribeye.
Whether you choose to marinate or not, sirloin is a wonderful grilling steak. If you’re hoping to fire up the grill and you aren’t sure which cut to choose, we would wholeheartedly recommend sirloin over ribeye.
When grilling sirloin, make sure the cooking grates are thoroughly heated before you put the steaks on. Instead of brushing the grates with oil, we would recommend lightly oiling the exterior of the steak itself. Using extra virgin olive oil will enhance the flavor. Grill for 4-5 minutes per side and allow to rest for an additional 5 minutes before serving.
At the end of the day, the ribeye vs sirloin debate can only be resolved depending on your situation. Are you dying to fire up the grill, or would you be fine with cooking the steak indoors? Are you trying to be thrifty, or do you have a generous budget? What recipe are you planning to use? Are you looking for the most nutritious choice? Your answers will help you determine which steak you should choose.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!